Last weekend’s passage of Hurricane Tomas, left Port-au-Prince relatively unscathed and despite the continuing deadly outbreak of cholera that has reached the capital, stories about the double disaster hardly flooded U.S. broadcast and cable outlets.
I don’t mean that networks like ABC didn’t carry the stories – both ABC World News with Diane Sawyer and Good Morning America have carried stories over the last 72 hours. CNN did a story on the links between uncollected garbage that has mushroomed since the earthquake and the cholera epidemic. CNN also ran a story occasioned by the landfall of Tomas last weekend titled Haiti’s trifecta of disaster attempted to provide a context for the persons displaced by the Jan. 12 earthquake. The story featured an interview with a spokesperson from the Haitian Red Cross who talked about lack of investment in infrastructure and disaster preparation. She predicted it would take years to make headway against this legacy of neglect.
It is stories last this last one that try to take viewers to a vantage point where they can get a perspective about the swirl of factors that make it hard for outsiders to make sense of what’s going on in the hemisphere’s first black republic. These rare stories approach the job done by print and multimedia journalists such as Ansel Herz who details the choice aid groups are forced to make, surveying damage after Tomas while displaced families wait for shelter.
While poignant, photos and footage of patients sick with cholera, can’t compete with the “disaster porn” of hurricane-driven rain and wind lashing reporters and flood waters washing away shelter. Ironically, the time bomb of epidemics set in motion by the January earthquake offers a grim opportunity for the spotlight to be turned on the stalled disaster recovery. Given the glancing blow by Tomas, sensational video didn’t emerge from the island nation. Despite this blip on the radar screen of world attention, it’s not clear that even a raging cholera epidemic centered in crowded Port-au-Prince will bring the sustained awareness that could lead to an outcry about the slow pace of solutions being implemented.